Review: Orbea Alma 29er – Part One: S10 Carbon

We took two diehard 26″ mountain bike racers and switched their bikes for Orbea Alma 29ers. Each spent several months riding and racing everything from short track to 24 hour team relays on either the S10 carbon or H30 alloy model, then they swapped rides. After a solid season of racing the verdicts are in. But first, the techy stuff:

The 2011 Orbea Alma 29er was introduced first in carbon fiber form in the summer of 2010, replacing the original Alma 29er that debuted in 2006. It quickly became their best selling mountain bike in the U.S., so around January they started bringing in an alloy model in three trim levels to offer more competitive price points. Like their Orca road bike, the carbon model uses their direct cable routing with Gore Ride-On sealed cable liner snaking through molded cable guides. The frame uses a “4×4″ layout that effectively pushes the seatstays past the seat tube, creating a bend in the top tube. The result are more horizontal seatstays that claim to give a smoother ride. For 2012, only minor cosmetic changes come to the frame’s hardware.

The alloy models do a pretty good job of mirroring the look of the carbon frames but get more traditional cable housing and stops. The alloy bike’s tech and frame details are covered here. More on each frame’s tech is covered within the full reviews here, too.

Here, in Part One, is our review of the 2011 Orbea Alma S10 Carbon…

2011 Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon fiber hardtail mountain bike review

ROB’S TAKE:

When I found out I was going to be rocking a new Orbea Alma carbon 29er for the local summer mountain bike race series I was  jacked.  The design of the bike was super sexy and with the  awesome graphics package it turned heads at every race. And it’s light!

2011 Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon fiber hardtail mountain bike review

The frame was very stiff and tracked well in turns due to the 4×4  triangle design from Orbea.   4X4 is a four-point rear triangle that allows a greater distance between the points where the seatstays and chainstays meet the front triangle, and a greater distance where the chainstays are joined to the seatstays, using a fourth angle. The greater the distance between these points, the greater the rigidity of the frame, and the frame’s comfort is improved despite the increased stiffness of the frame”. In short it  allows the frame to be stiff under pedaling forces and  flex slightly over the rough stuff to take the edge off the bumps.

2011 Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon fiber hardtail mountain bike review

Orbea also tunes each size frame using SSN Technology.  This  means that each bike size is designed individually, optimizing the frame structure according to the stiffness ratio and the cyclist’s anticipated average body mass so that each rider gets the same feel no matter what size frame they happen to ride.

2011 Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon fiber hardtail mountain bike review

2011 Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon fiber hardtail mountain bike review

The S10 also includes an awesome feature called the Downtube Patent.  It not only increases the stiffness of the frame is also comes in handy as a built in mud guard.

Orbea carried over their new and improved XC race geometry from 2010 models.  The combination of the shorter chain stays (439mm / 17.28″), increased clearance for wider tires and the refined head tube (optimized for 100mm forks) make the new bikes track better and handle faster than their predecessors.

2011 Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon fiber hardtail mountain bike review

The Alma S10 also incorporates direct cable routing into the design of the frame.  This means less cable housing for more precise shifts and a cleaner overall look.  In fact the S10 goes even further, it uses Gore fully sealed cables which provided flawless shifting and almost disappear into the frame from a distance.  However, since they are not internal, the cables have reduced friction and maintenance.  It also makes your local shop mechanic happy because he/she does not need to spend an hour or more just routing cables inside a frame.

2011 Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon fiber hardtail mountain bike review

The Shimano XTR parts along with a solid FOX F29 100mm fork (with tapered steerer and 15mm through axel) should provide many hours of enjoyment with very little service.  I loved the fact that the bike came with a 100mm fork which really helped to take the edge off the bike being a hardtail.

2011 Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon fiber hardtail mountain bike review

The only negative of the XTR cranks is the reduced distance between the chainring and the frame.  With this slight clearance issue, if you do get chain suck it will most likely get stuck behind the little ring on the 2X10 setup; resulting in the need to pull the cranks to free the chain.  I spoke to Ronnie from Orbea about this and he told me the frames are within spec and since the XTR 2X10 cranks use the same spacing as the little ring and middle ring of a traditional 3X9 setup instead of splitting the difference in spacing this results in a very tight gap.

2011 Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon fiber hardtail mountain bike review

A quick visual check of another Carbon S10 (with FSA cranks) confirmed that the gap is larger on any crank other than XTR.  The good news here is that since the frame is BB30 you have a wide range of cranks from various companies to keep all your front shifts clean and crisp.

Much to my personal delight Orbea spec’d a flat handle bar which helps keep the front end low for the out of the saddle efforts and climbs.  In my opinion riding a 29er with a riser bar and 100mm fork makes the bike very top heavy and handle very slow.  My only complaint with the parts mix on the stock bike would be the Mavic CrossMax wheelset.  While it was very durable and provided no issues during the test I felt like the wheels held the bike back somewhat.  After switching to a set of lighter weight wheels the true nature of the bike really began to shine.

The combination of the lighter wheels and the improved XC race geometry made this bike feel like it was ready for the local Wednesday Night World Championship race series. I didn’t want to see it go.

EVAN’S TAKE:

I was excited to receive the Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon one week before a solo six hour race I was doing in Virginia. Out of the box with a svelte looking carbon frame and a mix of XTR and other upper level cross country mountain bike components, I was not disappointed. Assembly was pretty smooth, but I did encounter a couple of little issues. First, the hydraulic cable for the back disc was about a foot too long. Second, the grommets to route the derailleur cables are made out of aluminum and turned out to be like knives against the Gore cable system I was running. This resulted in some shaving of the housings. Other than that, the bike seemed sensibly laid out.

WHAT NOT TO DO - Left: Rear brake hose goes under the shift cable. Right: Shift cable should not be zip tied with the brake hose. Both are easy mistakes to make when assembling the Alma S10, but both will hurt performance.

After a couple of test rides on local trails that served as short, general tuning  rides, I was on my way to the six hour race. The trails were dry and not too technically demanding. The bike and I gelled. Though still recognizably a hardtail, the Alma dealt a well tracking, predictable and highly controllable ride. The frame had plenty of  stiffness when hammering yet exhibited respectable vibration damping. Having a 100mm of travel on the Fox fork instead of 80mm also paid dividends. I am a firm believer that 100mm is much more adequate on a hardtail than 80mm. Post six hours on the bike my body still felt intact and I was overall pleased with the Orbea.

It is sad, but my next couple of rides were not as fortunate, which included the 6 Hours of Warrior Creek. I kept having mechanical incidents, nothing necessarily pertaining to the frame, yet several rides got terminated prematurely. The narrow clearance between the chainstay and chainrings got me. Likely because of the abundant mud at this event, several times I experienced some chain suck that wedged the chain between the frame and the crankset. The small metal frame protector on the chainstay even fell victim and ripped off. Then, at the BURN 24 Hour Challenge, one of the XTR shifters was giving some stiction concerns and had to be serviced. (Editor’s note: the shift cable came off the spring-loaded wheel inside the shifter pod and got jammed. We opened up the shifter, reset it and it worked fine for a while. Evan actually tested this bike before Rob, and once Rob got it the shifter pod acted up again and was replaced by Shimano.)

As an entire package, aside from the mechanical mishaps I encountered, the Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon is a well stocked and race ready machine. Throughout my time with the bike, which included a handful of cross country races, two six hour races, local trail riding and one team 24hr race, my opinion is that it’s a quality frame with an impressive 29er hardtail ride.

TECH SPECS:

  • Size Tested: Small
  • Frame: Orbea Silver Level Carbon
  • Cockpit: FSA bar, stem and post comes stock, our test bike had house brand parts.
  • Fork: FOX 32 F29 QR15mm 100mm travel
  • Group: Shimano XTR
  • Wheels: Mavic Crossmax 29
  • Tires: Continental Race King 2.2 (tested with tubes)
  • MSRP: $5,499.00
  • Weight as tested: 23lbs 6oz (without pedals)

2011 Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon fiber hardtail mountain bike review and actual weight

Comments

Ben G - 10/26/11 - 11:12pm

That cable routing at the head tube on the carbon version is awesome.

Mark W. - 10/27/11 - 12:00am

I like the massive swoop of hose for the rear brake that is just sticking up.
is that a stock feature? because i see it in more than one picture

JeroenK - 10/27/11 - 3:23am

@Mark W, that has nothing to do with the bike.

It can be fixed by adjusting the banjo fitting on the brake and shortening the hose. That has not (yet) been done on pictured bikes you saw.

Brando - 10/27/11 - 4:45am

Ug… Looks crazy uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure the front wheel and rear wheel are about a foot apart. Hopefully you don’t catch your shoe on the front when you’re turning. I have a bike that looks just like this… It’s my road bike. 29′ers are so STUPID! I guess if all you ride is fire road this bike would be good.

a - 10/27/11 - 7:15am

Sorry I must have missed the actual “verdict” part.

Did they become converts to 29″ or after the test was over did they want to stick with 26″? Surely this is the whole point?

It would also be useful to know what their usual rides were. Give someone a high end carbon bike when they normally ride a much lower end product and of course they will love it, but if they normally rode similar level 26″ bikes then the “verdict” will be worth knowing…

WannaBeSTi - 10/27/11 - 7:20am

I’ll have to give Orbea props on the looks of the bike, but seems a little portly. I just got a Scott Scale 29 PRO and it weighs about the same with lesser components and heavier wheels. After seeing the $5500 price tag, I feel like I stole the Scott.

dgaddis - 10/27/11 - 7:28am

You lost me at “4 point triangle.”

Evan - 10/27/11 - 7:33am

I had been riding a very well spec’d aluminum 26″ hardtail for most race events and a 26″ full suspension when just out messing around. While the 29er hardtail does not change approach angle enough to make it feel like a full suspension bike (26″ or 29″), and not that I expected to, it does make a significant difference in the ability to roll over trail obstructions. It motors over the smaller rocks, divots, and roots, plus, the bike keeps its momentum like a train. I would take it over my 26″ bike any day and would trade without question. Yes, it converted me to a 29er believer.

mgr - 10/27/11 - 8:17am

WannaBeSTi, got the same scott 6 months ago….

After reading this, i feel the same way ;-)

Swinny - 10/27/11 - 8:27am

What wheelset did you replace the Mavics with?

Luka - 10/27/11 - 9:29am

It seems that S size is too big for a woman of 160cm’s. Am I right?

Looks good though. Cheers, L.

Josh - 10/27/11 - 9:59am

I’ve been racing this bike since april. First, if you have chain-suck, it doesn’t matter how much ‘ring clearance you have; yer screwed!! This is the best handling 29er hard-tail on the market. Super fast in the turns, descends like a dream due to the lack of seat/chain-stay cross braces(yoke). This demo bike looks like a 5yr old built it, trim the hose, route cable right, slam the stem, and head to the trail!!!

phlat albert - 10/27/11 - 11:21am

yeah, the verdict part never appeared. in regards to the bike..it’s a cross bike with flat bars. when do you think a 29er review will stop justifying the merits of the wheel size? never. that’s when. cuz the geo is its achilles heel when it’s time to really party. it’ll always be a valid option..like the business end of a mullet.

ultimately it is ALWAYS the rider. giving it to XC racers is the wrong approach. give it to bmxers, djers, dhers, and freeriders and get a real view point. larger diameter has bigger contact patch, really?!! that’s marketing 101.

phlat albert - 10/27/11 - 12:06pm

my fault if Part 2 contains the “verdict”

dgaddis - 10/27/11 - 1:35pm

@Josh: “…descends like a dream due to the lack of seat/chain-stay cross braces(yoke). ”

Care to elaborate on that? What does a cross brace have to do with descending ability?

Gillis - 10/27/11 - 2:09pm

“It motors over the smaller rocks, divots, and roots, plus, the bike keeps its momentum like a train.”

@Evan: So why ride trails at all? If your suspension can’t handle rocks and roots don’t justify it through a larger wheel size. The only bike I want to “keep momentum like a train” is my road bike.

MissedThePoint - 10/27/11 - 10:55pm

Orbea seems to put the most design thought into their bikes compared to the rest. Even their FS bikes are really thought out. Orbea needs more US distributors.

Jeff - 10/28/11 - 6:25am

One of the better looking 29ers on the market but where does the weight come from? This is a really high end build kit, and with pedals and cages (you know, the way people actually ride their bikes) this is easily a 24lb+ bike. 24lbs+ isn’t heavy when comparing bikes of 5 years ago, but now-a-days if you have $5K to spend on a 29er hardtail, I think there are quite a few lighter alternatives. Full disclosure, I am a 29er convert, love ‘em.

Christian - 11/11/11 - 4:30pm

Unfortunatly Orbea has the the worst service in the world, and their lifetime warranty is not worth a penny….

tom - 11/17/11 - 2:01pm

I have Alma 29er, I love it!! It is not mad efor long rides, but for short races or rides is really fast..
I used to ride spark 10 which i loved, but let me telll you after braking the frame for the 3rd times and wait 6 month each time for warranty I decide to move on and try 29er hard tail. just keep in mind that if you like to jump this is not the right bike !!!

Davis - 12/29/11 - 11:48am

FInd out a way to avoid the chain suck? I have the same bike and it’s not really even rideable due to chain suck issues between the small ring and the frame. And yes, Orbea has horrible service as they offer no help or solutions other than tightening the B adjustment screw.

Robert - 08/04/12 - 9:37pm

Regarding the comment:
Christian – 11/11/11 – 4:30pm
Unfortunatly Orbea has the the worst service in the world, and their lifetime warranty is not worth a penny….

That is absolutely NOT true. Orbea was excellent to work with on a frame warranty issue.

Mike in SLC - 06/04/13 - 4:05pm

During a major overhaul on my bike, the shop I use and bought the bike from (Contender in SLC) found a hairline crack on the bottom bracket. I didn’t notice it. Orbea replaced the frame no questions asked and Contender treated me right. It probably helped that Contender sells a lot of Orbeas.

The chain suck issue sucks. I have ripped off the titanium protector and lost it. However, my chain suck was caused by a new chain and old chainring. Its the clearance from the frame that is the problem. Otherwise, I have ridden the crap out of this bike in the Wasatch Range, Durango, Steamboat, and Moab. It is the perfect smoother trail climbing machine. I beat the crap out of myself at Moab recently on the rough trails. Will be renting a full susp next time I go there. Still get people oggling the sweet looking frame.

I run a XTR full kit and a Fox front shock with Stans Crest wheel set. Working on the 3rd year on the bike. I would buy it again.

Vosnika - 12/23/13 - 9:43pm

I’m trying to figure out what kind of bottom bracket is used in a ORBEA Alma S10 2012.
Does any body can help?

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